By Marjorie Nesin
---- — It’s the heart of summer, but Gloucester’s November city elections are heading toward us, and that will mean a non-binding referendum vote on the future of the Fuller School building.
With that upcoming vote in mind, and while considering all of the different aspects decisions about Fuller’s future would affect, city councilors are hosting a public forum Tuesday night at 6:30 with the sole intent of hearing residents voice their opinions at City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium.
“The main purpose of the meeting is to hear what the people have to say,” City Council President Jackie Hardy said Friday. “It will help us frame the language for the non-binding referendum coming this fall.”
Hardy said she anticipates that the board will simply listen to the concerns of residents, many of whom likely attended school at the Fuller building or have children enrolled in the preschool there.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk initially vetoed the referendum in December, but the council overrode that veto, which was based on the grounds that one of the council’s proposed options in the multiple choice referendum question was not feasible. Kirk primarily rejected renewing the building’s use as a public school, expressing that since the School Committee had already decided against reusing Fuller as a school, that’s not a viable option.
“My hope is that it is a fact-based discussion citizens have with the City Council,” Kirk said Friday.
City Councilor Bruce Tobey had proposed tomorrow’s public hearing after the administration met with the owner of the 2 Blackburn Drive building that had previously been leased for the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, and that school officials were considering the building as an option for the school administration office, preschool and school transportation department that have all continued to occupy the Fuller building even after the School Committee formally declared it a surplus property this past spring.
How the city ultimately chooses to utilize the Fuller building and its surrounding property could also affect plans for rebuilding the West Parish Elementary School and the long-term plan for the elementary school system, currently broken down into five “neighborhood school” facilities.
“A public dialogue delayed for years will finally begin now,” Tobey said. “There’s so much going on in the shadows and that has got to stop. This is meant to be a first blow to accomplish that.”
Tobey, who has actively fought for the Fuller school building’s reuse and rehabilitation, hopes to see the conversation continue into multiple public hearings. He even proposed holding a second hearing at the school itself.
“I see this as something that’s going to be a continuing public dialogue,” Tobey said, “and it might be a good idea to have round two in the Fuller school auditorium.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.